Racing returns to Oakbank this Saturday for the time-honoured Great Eastern Steeplechase.
We’re a little light-on for numbers (six starters) but it should be an entertaining race, as usual.
There are several reasons the Great Eastern struggles to attract a big field. Firstly, the race is over 4950 metres. It’s one of only three jumps races in Australia run over further than three miles (4800m). The Grand National Steeple (5000m) and the Grand Annual Steeple (5500m) are the others. These a huge staying tests.
This year the Grand Annual will be contested 12 days after the Great Eastern and it’s worth twice as much.
There is only a small pool of horses in Australia that can run over these long trips and trainers like to look after their horses.
We also have a superstar in Zed Em tackling the Great Eastern again this year. He is looking to win it for the second year in a row, on the back of creating history with a third Von Doussa Steeple triumph recently.
For the past four years we have been thrilled with Winx’s exploits on the flat, yet not many have talked down her exploits because she has kept beating small fields. Like Winx, Zed Em has scared off a lot of rival camps.
Why would owners and trainers send their horse around when they have no hope of winning? There are plenty of other races this season that Zed Em won’t be in, so they may as well keep their jumpers fresh for those.
Another problem for Oakbank this year is the absence of any New Zealand runners.
John Wheeler has won the Great Eastern eight times but he has dropped off the challenge in recent years.
Great weight ...
My mount Zed Em really does look close to a “good thing” with 68kg under the special conditions of the Great Eastern.
We meet Spying on You just a kilo worse for beating him easily (four lengths) in the Von Doussa a fortnight ago.
I believe that if Zed Em is successful, I’ll surpass Brett Scott’s Great Eastern winning tally (five). It would be a great feeling. This race has been around since 1876.
“Scotty” first won it on Tyrolia in 1994. In 1995 and ’96 he claimed the great race on Light Hand, followed by a victory in ’97 aboard the great Foxboy.
Then there was a gap of four years before his fifth winner came up in 2001 — St Steven.
My first Great Eastern came in 2008 on Conzeal for Eric Musgrove. Since then I have won on It’s a Dud (2010, Patrick Payne), Man of Class (2013, Ciaron Maher), Lord of the Song (2015, Patrick Payne) and last year on Zed Em for Payne again.
This Kid’s all class
Patrick Payne and I have a very good opportunity to snare a feature jumps double at Oakbank, as we team up with Killarney Kid in the Thomas Farms Classic Hurdle.
Killarney Kid has been impressive in two hurdle wins this time in and he looks well weighted with 66kg on Saturday (he carried 68kg to victory last start).
Our main danger is likely to be Ivan Grozny, a French galloper making his local hurdling debut.
He won three hurdles in Ireland before coming to Australia. He won a trial at Oakbank on Monday and while he was jumping a little low for my liking, he certainly looks in good order.
Goodwood looks good
Last Sunday’s card at Racing.com Park produced plenty of highs and, sadly, a couple of lows.
First to the positives ... Goodwood Zodiac created a big impression when winning his maiden hurdle by a whopping 30 lengths.
It was a pretty weak field so we can’t take too much notice of what he beat, but he ran the fastest time of the three hurdle races on the day. He ran 3:39.99, which was almost a second quicker than Lucques (3:40.83) ran when he took out the feature event, the M.J. Bourke Hurdle.
Things will get harder for Goodwood Zodiac as he steps up in class but he jumped very well and looks an exciting prospect.
Lucques made it three from three over hurdles with his win over the promising Big Blue. I rode Big Blue and he just hit a flat spot and struggled around the turn. I liked the way he jumped the last two and finished off the race. He has set for the Galleywood Hurdle (May 1) all along and he is right on track for that race.
The other hurdle race at Racing.com Park was won by Mr One Eleven for Eric Musgrove and Martin Kelly.
Sadly, in the same race, Braidon Small had a bad fall from Startierra. He was taken to hospital and required surgery after suffering bleeding on the brain.
Everyone in the jumps industry wishes him the best with his recovery.
The other jumps race at Racing.com Park was a competitive steeplechase, taken out by Solar Coaster for Henry Dwyer and Tom Sadler.
This was Tom’s first feature win as a jumps jockey, and his first over steeples. It was a very well-deserved achievement.
Patrick Payne’s Slowpoke Rodriguez was only a half-head away in second and that was a slashing Grand Annual Steeple trial. He probably would have won if he didn’t make a mistake at the second-last fence.
I rode Bit of a Lad into fourth place. Initially I was disappointed with the run but on pulling up I noticed the horse suffered a cut to his leg. I reckon it was when he was bumped at the first jump. I’d be very forgiving of the run.